Warner Brothers and DC Films are currently dealing with what will turn out to be a disappointing box office (and mixed critical and fan acclaim) for Justice League, the movie that was supposed to be the crown jewel of its DC Comics cinematic universe. As a result, where the studio goes next with the DC cinematic universe looks as uncertain as it ever has.
That made the news of Margot Robbie developing a Harley Quinn solo movie somewhat of a puzzler. Robbie told MTV’s Josh Horowitz that she’s been working on a spinoff film for the character, who made her big-screen debut in 2016’s Suicide Squad, for the past two years.
On its own, that revelation isn’t so curious. Quinn is a hugely popular character for DC and Robbie is an A-list actress (who may earn an Academy Award nomination for her performance as disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding) who’s smart to attach herself to a female superhero property. Not many of those exist right now.
— MTV (@MTV) November 30, 2017
But Robbie’s project is apparently different from three others involving the character that are in various stages of development.
One is the Batman villainess team-up Gotham City Sirens, currently set to be directed by Suicide Squad helmer David Ayer. (This movie sounds like the story “with her girlfriends” that Robbie described, yet it’s a separate venture. The other would partner Quinn with her lover, The Joker, in a film being written and directed by the This is Us team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. If that project goes forward, it would film after Suicide Squad 2, currently targeting a 2019 release with director Gavin O’Connor (The Accountant).
Could DC Films really make four films involving Harley Quinn? Again, the character is popular and Robbie is a fast-rising star. But consider that the studio has made five films — Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman and Justice League — in its DC cinematic universe to this point. But movies involving a more “street-level” character like Quinn could be less expensive and maybe development will be smoother if the movies aren’t attached to the cinematic universe, which appears to be Warner Bros.’ preference now.
Yet Robbie saying that she’s working on a Harley Quinn movie, while three other projects are in development, calls into question just what sort of plan DC Films has. It looks like the approach is throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. The studio is working on far more movies than could seemingly be made, including Joss Whedon’s Batgirl, Black Adam (with Dwayne Johnson starring as the Shazam adversary), a Nightwing film, and a movie featuring Deathstroke, the mercenary who made [SPOILER ALERT] made his on-screen debut (played by Joe Manganiello) in a Justice League post-credits scene.
Perhaps DC and Warner Bros. are taking a longer view here. All of these movies aren’t going to be made in the next four years. Maybe it’s a 10-year plan or even beyond that. But if the studio can’t make a hit out of what should have been its home run property, how much of a future is there for DC Films?
Forbes’ box office analyst Scott Mendelson forecasts a global box office total for Justice League that could finish below $700 million, which would leave it behind Man of Steel and other perceived superhero movie disappointments like The Amazing Spider-Man 2. A story by The Wrap last week detailed the troubled production, notably a schedule that was rushed to help Warner Bros. look good before a merger with AT&T.
A Justice League sequel would have been a certainty had the first movie fulfilled expectations. (My guess is we’ll see one eventually, but not as soon as initially planned. When it was first being developed, JL was supposed to be a two-part release.) But its disappointing returns may have killed plans for a solo Flash movie, at least for now. We’ll get Aquaman next December, then Shazam! and Wonder Woman 2 in 2019, along with Matt Reeves’s Batman film (that probably won’t star Ben Affleck) at some point thereafter.
Sure, things could change quickly. If Aquaman does well and Shazam! is the lighter, more comedic take that DC needs, then perception is suddenly different. And after that, there could be enough distance from Justice League, helped by goodwill from a Wonder Woman follow-up, that people feel all right about seeing the superhero gang get back together again. (Personally, I think DC should move on a Man of Steel sequel with the newly colorful, humorous and optimistic version of Henry Cavill’s Superman seen in JL.)
Or maybe it takes a star to put his or her power behind a project. That was true with Affleck writing, directing and starring in a Batman film to an extent, though Warner Bros. will keep making Batman movies. And it could turn out to be true with Margot Robbie. If her Harley Quinn film emerges among the other three projects, and she beats the remaining cluster of DC movies to the screen, her profile will likely have made it happen. Why did Robbie make a Harley Quinn film? Because she could.
Maybe actors and filmmakers who love these characters and/or see the opportunities they present taking matters into their own hands will ultimately be what saves DC Films.